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Saturday, February 4, 2012

Plans are useless, but planning is indispensable

Be it business plan competitions, consulting case competitions, interviews, exam preparation or otherwise, I've seen the best laid plans fail. For instance, during the interviews for 2011 summer internships, the batch of 2010-12 largely saw HR based questions, stumping a few who had overly focused on technical questions. During business plan competitions, juries routinely focus on just those parts of the plan(such as organizational structure, hiring) which teams have missed out. Interviews for Bschool may go on a tangent discussing hobbies/current affairs etc instead of the candidate's stellar work experience/academic grades. And of course, entrepreneurs would know that even the best laid plans have to be frequently revised. So what is the value of planning if anyway it will fail? During the Ideafest(conducted at IIM-A by the student bodies Entrepreneurship Club and Public Policy SIG), one of the venture capitalists said that 'Plans are useless, but planning is indispensable', in the context that while he did not give undue importance to the business plans which tend to be positively biased anyways, that is evidence that the entrepreneurs have given some thought to their plan and addressed the obvious issues atleast.

In my view, the advantage of background work and planning is that it
  1. Gives the person confidence to face any level of grilling, and that confidence comes across while evaluation on the 'softer aspects'
  2. Makes the person learn a lot about the idea/subject, and may even make him drop the plan/modify it
  3. Separates those who can execute from those who merely dream. 
I do not say that planning is just about making nice excel models and verbose business plans. It is not. Doing your own market research/ground work/talking to people/field testing prototype-all these 'real world' activities constitute planning and are viewed much more favorably than planning totally based on secondary research. The above was what I saw in IIM-A as well, where professors from industry gave top grades to projects demonstrating real industry insights, while most academics could not care less.

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